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Northern Virginia HOT Lanes

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1995hoo:

--- Quote from: cpzilliacus on August 17, 2012, 10:08:59 AM ---
--- Quote from: mtantillo on August 14, 2012, 11:02:35 PM ---I think that, in general, the lanes will be underutilized on weekends.  There is just not much traffic on that portion of the Beltway on weekends, you just have local traffic which will use the regular lanes for free.  Long distance traffic will be on the east side of the Beltway.

--- End quote ---

I respectfully disagree.  I think there will be plenty of demand on weekends, especially in the afternoons.
--- End quote ---

I think it's fair to expect some of that will depend on the toll rate. I remember I used the I-95 HO/T lanes in Miami on a weekend last year precisely because the toll was so low (25¢ to go the length of the lanes). There was so much less traffic in there that 25¢ would have been more than worth it for the reduced traffic even if I hadn't had the roadgeeking reason for using those lanes. I anticipate the same would apply on the Beltway. No doubt some people would oppose paying even a low toll if the general-purpose lanes are flowing freely. Fine by me!!! I look at what I pay to cross the bridges in New York and I shrug at the idea of paying $1.00 on a Saturday to use the Express Lanes if I'm going far enough to use them.

I think the operators are going to have some work to do to figure out the point at which the weekend or late-night rate is low enough to encourage people to use the lanes but high enough to allow them to make money.

The other consideration is that there are a couple of Express Lane exits that don't exist from the general-purpose lanes; the one that most readily comes to my mind in terms of presenting some totally new access is the new US-29 northbound exit/southbound entrance. I could definitely see myself using that on a weekend if I were going to play golf at Jefferson District Park (two lights east of the Beltway)—presently I exit at US-50 and then go through Fairview Park, and that's easy enough, but if the toll rate were low enough I'd consider just using the Express Lanes. I think VDOT and Fluor/Transurban expect people to use the Express Lanes for exactly that purpose, and I think they further expect that some people on the Inner Loop might exit at Gallows Road and then re-enter into the Express Lanes via the new ramp now under construction, as I've noted that there is an overhead "E-ZPass Express" VMS on the Inner Loop exit ramp at Gallows. Why put that on an exit ramp unless you expect people to pop over into the Express Lanes?

There are some other new exits in Tysons as well, but I don't view them as presenting quite the same degree of "new access." Someone going to the mall might want to use the Westpark Bridge exit, but at the same time, the mall is pretty easy to access from Virginia. Coming from Maryland, paying the toll to take the Westpark Bridge might be a considerable advantage because if you exit the Outer Loop onto southbound 123, you can't access the left turn lane due to a barrier curb—you have to go to International Drive to access the mall or else loop around to the right via Tysons Boulevard and Westpark Drive. If you take the Express Lanes, you go directly to the bridge and to the parking garage outside where Woodies used to be. As for the other exit to Jones Branch Drive, I don't have a great sense of what that road serves other than that it's in the corporate park area, so I have no idea if it would have any value to the average driver on weekends.

Hmmm.....you know, the point about access to the mall prompts me to think of the interesting question of whether the Express Lanes would be useful for Christmas shoppers given what a mess Tysons can be at that time of year. Back in the late 1990s I worked in McLean but lived near Fairfax City and my commute home was 123 to the Beltway to 236. But at Christmastime it could take 45 minutes to go from Lewinsville Road to the Beltway, so I started getting on the Toll Road west, paying the (then) 25¢ to exit at Spring Hill, then getting back on the other way and paying another 25¢, then getting on the Beltway. I haven't been to Tysons at Christmas in a couple of years but I'm sure it's only gotten worse. It'll be interesting to see how that sort of thing affects the Express Lanes' operation (and, by extension, the toll rates).



--- Quote from: cpzilliacus on August 17, 2012, 10:08:59 AM ---
--- Quote from: mtantillo on August 14, 2012, 11:02:35 PM ---Northbound, in the morning, I think the lanes will work okay up to but not including the end of the HOT lanes at Edsal Road.  You're going to have more lanes feeding a chokepoint.  The mainline lanes of I-395 will be very congested approaching this merge point.  HOT lane users will get to the front of the line, but will still ultimately have to merge.   We can only hope that enough of the tollpayers are going to Tysons and not up I-395, that is what will keep the merge from becomming awful.  Perhaps the lane operators could make the toll for the segment between the Beltway and Edsal Road very high, thereby encouraging Tysons commuters but discouraging DC commuters from using the lanes, or at the least, getting DC commuters out of the lanes a little earlier than at the very very end.  Also, the operators should play up the fact that anyone with HOV-2 has another option...rather than merge onto I-395, they could continue paying tolls and use the I-495 lanes, and then take I-66 inbound to Arlington and DC (would really only work well for the west side of DC and Arlington, would be too out of the way for Capitol Hill).
--- End quote ---

Agreed.  I have not seen the plans for adding a new ramp from the reversible HOV roadway to the conventional lanes of I-395 at Turkeycock Run (just north of Edsall Road (Va. 648) Exit 2, but things are normally very congested there now in the three non-HOV lanes from Va. 648 to Duke Street (Va. 236) Exit 3.
--- End quote ---

It's not super-specific, but a diagram of that plan is available at the following address: http://www.vahotlanes.com/documents/D38683PH_13.pdf    The source for that info, as well as similar maps of the rest of the project, may be found here (link shortened to a single word so that it's not stacked right under the other one). I found the map of "Fairfax County Parkway Area" (Newington) to be interesting because there is to be a new Express Lanes exit/entrance there, connecting to Alban Road/Boudinot Drive. Boudinot in turn connects directly to both directions of the Parkway.

What concerns me about the proposed Turkeycock ramp is that it poses a potential weaving problem as traffic exiting the Express Lanes and continuing on I-395 has to move left just as traffic coming up the general-purpose lanes and exiting onto Duke Street towards Landmark Mall and Alexandria proper has to move right. Weaving movements in a lane of traffic always gum things up, and a prime example of that is right across on the other side of I-395 where the cloverleaf loop-around ramps use the right thru lane as their weave area. I-395 always slows down through there. For me that's one major reason why I try to use the express lanes when they're open to all traffic going south. As to the new ramp, I rather doubt there's enough room to build a barrier-separated C/D lane there due to the limited right-of-way coupled with some very expensive townhouses (Landmark Mews—those are really expensive townhouses) just to the southeast of the right-of-way. (If you look at the bottom of the map you see the words "City of Alexandria." The word "City" is superimposed on the building where my wife lived before we got married, so I am very familiar with that little area.)


Separate issue not raised yet: One of the things I found myself wondering is about the specific issue of the center carriageway being reversible. At what point does extending a reversible carriageway ever further out (south, in this case) begin to introduce operational problems? I've seen some comments about the reversible facility that suggest that VDOT could do a better job of reversing them if they'd use cameras and automate the process instead of insisting on having trucks driving the length of the thing opening and closing the gates. On the other hand, I also understand why VDOT is absolutely paranoid about the risk of a head-on collision between vehicles with a closing speed of 130 mph or more (65 mph x 2) and why they are therefore overly cautious. I can't really blame them. Also, cameras do malfunction, and bad weather sometimes reduces cameras' usefulness, especially given the predilection of Northern Virginia drivers to drive illegally without headlights in the rain and snow. So I think it's fair to presume that VDOT will continue to impose very strict regulations as to the process of reversing the lanes, even if Fluor and Transurban take over the responsibility of managing the reversal in the HO/T portion. All of which builds up to the point—at what point does extending the reversible lanes potentially reduce the lanes' useful hours of operation if the process of reversing the direction winds up taking longer?


(edited to fix busted quote)

cpzilliacus:

--- Quote from: 1995hoo on August 17, 2012, 11:22:25 AM ---
--- Quote from: cpzilliacus on August 17, 2012, 10:08:59 AM ---
--- Quote from: mtantillo on August 14, 2012, 11:02:35 PM ---I think that, in general, the lanes will be underutilized on weekends.  There is just not much traffic on that portion of the Beltway on weekends, you just have local traffic which will use the regular lanes for free.  Long distance traffic will be on the east side of the Beltway.

--- End quote ---

I respectfully disagree.  I think there will be plenty of demand on weekends, especially in the afternoons.
--- End quote ---

I think it's fair to expect some of that will depend on the toll rate. I remember I used the I-95 HO/T lanes in Miami on a weekend last year precisely because the toll was so low (25¢ to go the length of the lanes). There was so much less traffic in there that 25¢ would have been more than worth it for the reduced traffic even if I hadn't had the roadgeeking reason for using those lanes. I anticipate the same would apply on the Beltway. No doubt some people would oppose paying even a low toll if the general-purpose lanes are flowing freely. Fine by me!!! I look at what I pay to cross the bridges in New York and I shrug at the idea of paying $1.00 on a Saturday to use the Express Lanes if I'm going far enough to use them.
--- End quote ---

It should be relatively simple to come up  with a  price that is low enough to attract traffic while being high enough to keep traffic at free-flow speed (probably level-of-service D).  Might take some time to get it stable, but I don't think it is especially hard.


--- Quote from: 1995hoo on August 17, 2012, 11:22:25 AM ---I think the operators are going to have some work to do to figure out the point at which the weekend or late-night rate is low enough to encourage people to use the lanes but high enough to allow them to make money.

--- End quote ---

They will not earn huge sums of money then, but pricing them low enough to entice a few motorists in is better than them being entirely empty.


--- Quote from: 1995hoo on August 17, 2012, 11:22:25 AM ---The other consideration is that there are a couple of Express Lane exits that don't exist from the general-purpose lanes; the one that most readily comes to my mind in terms of presenting some totally new access is the new US-29 northbound exit/southbound entrance. I could definitely see myself using that on a weekend if I were going to play golf at Jefferson District Park (two lights east of the Beltway)—presently I exit at US-50 and then go through Fairview Park, and that's easy enough, but if the toll rate were low enough I'd consider just using the Express Lanes. I think VDOT and Fluor/Transurban expect people to use the Express Lanes for exactly that purpose, and I think they further expect that some people on the Inner Loop might exit at Gallows Road and then re-enter into the Express Lanes via the new ramp now under construction, as I've noted that there is an overhead "E-ZPass Express" VMS on the Inner Loop exit ramp at Gallows. Why put that on an exit ramp unless you expect people to pop over into the Express Lanes?
--- End quote ---

There was never an exit at U.S. 29 (Lee Highway) before because it crossed too close to U.S. 50 and the I-66 interchanges.

This exit may also attract some traffic to the new Defense Department offices (that oversee TRICARE) in the old Melpar complex on U.S. 50, since there is a "back" entrance via Fairview Park North.


--- Quote from: 1995hoo on August 17, 2012, 11:22:25 AM ---There are some other new exits in Tysons as well, but I don't view them as presenting quite the same degree of "new access." Someone going to the mall might want to use the Westpark Bridge exit, but at the same time, the mall is pretty easy to access from Virginia. Coming from Maryland, paying the toll to take the Westpark Bridge might be a considerable advantage because if you exit the Outer Loop onto southbound 123, you can't access the left turn lane due to a barrier curb—you have to go to International Drive to access the mall or else loop around to the right via Tysons Boulevard and Westpark Drive. If you take the Express Lanes, you go directly to the bridge and to the parking garage outside where Woodies used to be. As for the other exit to Jones Branch Drive, I don't have a great sense of what that road serves other than that it's in the corporate park area, so I have no idea if it would have any value to the average driver on weekends.

--- End quote ---

Those ramps were not in the original proposal from the prospective (at the time) concessionaire group, but were added in part at the insistence of VDOT staff, who understood that without those ramps, the traffic on the Beltway mainline would get much, much worse.  Nobody gives VDOT any credit for this (and at least one of the engineers, a personal friend of mine, was rewarded for his efforts by getting laid-off in the huge cutback of staff that took place when Virginia's motor fuel tax revenue crashed in about 2008).


--- Quote from: 1995hoo on August 17, 2012, 11:22:25 AM ---Hmmm.....you know, the point about access to the mall prompts me to think of the interesting question of whether the Express Lanes would be useful for Christmas shoppers given what a mess Tysons can be at that time of year. Back in the late 1990s I worked in McLean but lived near Fairfax City and my commute home was 123 to the Beltway to 236. But at Christmastime it could take 45 minutes to go from Lewinsville Road to the Beltway, so I started getting on the Toll Road west, paying the (then) 25¢ to exit at Spring Hill, then getting back on the other way and paying another 25¢, then getting on the Beltway. I haven't been to Tysons at Christmas in a couple of years but I'm sure it's only gotten worse. It'll be interesting to see how that sort of thing affects the Express Lanes' operation (and, by extension, the toll rates).

--- End quote ---

That's going to be very interesting to observe.

[Will continue in separate message]

cpzilliacus:

--- Quote from: 1995hoo on August 17, 2012, 11:22:25 AM ---

--- Quote from: cpzilliacus on August 17, 2012, 10:08:59 AM ---
--- Quote from: mtantillo on August 14, 2012, 11:02:35 PM ---Northbound, in the morning, I think the lanes will work okay up to but not including the end of the HOT lanes at Edsal Road.  You're going to have more lanes feeding a chokepoint.  The mainline lanes of I-395 will be very congested approaching this merge point.  HOT lane users will get to the front of the line, but will still ultimately have to merge.   We can only hope that enough of the tollpayers are going to Tysons and not up I-395, that is what will keep the merge from becomming awful.  Perhaps the lane operators could make the toll for the segment between the Beltway and Edsal Road very high, thereby encouraging Tysons commuters but discouraging DC commuters from using the lanes, or at the least, getting DC commuters out of the lanes a little earlier than at the very very end.  Also, the operators should play up the fact that anyone with HOV-2 has another option...rather than merge onto I-395, they could continue paying tolls and use the I-495 lanes, and then take I-66 inbound to Arlington and DC (would really only work well for the west side of DC and Arlington, would be too out of the way for Capitol Hill).
--- End quote ---

Agreed.  I have not seen the plans for adding a new ramp from the reversible HOV roadway to the conventional lanes of I-395 at Turkeycock Run (just north of Edsall Road (Va. 648) Exit 2, but things are normally very congested there now in the three non-HOV lanes from Va. 648 to Duke Street (Va. 236) Exit 3.
--- End quote ---

It's not super-specific, but a diagram of that plan is available at the following address: http://www.vahotlanes.com/documents/D38683PH_13.pdf    The source for that info, as well as similar maps of the rest of the project, may be found here (link shortened to a single word so that it's not stacked right under the other one). I found the map of "Fairfax County Parkway Area" (Newington) to be interesting because there is to be a new Express Lanes exit/entrance there, connecting to Alban Road/Boudinot Drive. Boudinot in turn connects directly to both directions of the Parkway.
--- End quote ---

There is also a new ramp coming out of the Fort Belvoir North Area that will provide access to the reversible roadway.  I think it is under construction now.


--- Quote from: 1995hoo on August 17, 2012, 11:22:25 AM ---What concerns me about the proposed Turkeycock ramp is that it poses a potential weaving problem as traffic exiting the Express Lanes and continuing on I-395 has to move left just as traffic coming up the general-purpose lanes and exiting onto Duke Street towards Landmark Mall and Alexandria proper has to move right. Weaving movements in a lane of traffic always gum things up, and a prime example of that is right across on the other side of I-395 where the cloverleaf loop-around ramps use the right thru lane as their weave area. I-395 always slows down through there. For me that's one major reason why I try to use the express lanes when they're open to all traffic going south. As to the new ramp, I rather doubt there's enough room to build a barrier-separated C/D lane there due to the limited right-of-way coupled with some very expensive townhouses (Landmark Mews—those are really expensive townhouses) just to the southeast of the right-of-way. (If you look at the bottom of the map you see the words "City of Alexandria." The word "City" is superimposed on the building where my wife lived before we got married, so I am very familiar with that little area.)

--- End quote ---

I know exactly what you are talking about.  If I lived in those townhomes, I would be very angry about that ramp, even though it has long been needed. In a perfect world (without Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act of 1967) that ramp could go exit from the HOV lanes and then go over the northbound I-395 conventional lanes and then around, cloverleaf-style, to I-395 northbound.  But thanks in large part to 4(f) as well as the Clean Water Act (since such a ramp would probably have some impact on Turkeycock Run, part of the Waters of the United States, meaning that a Section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would also be needed), it is better for a highway to impact a community like Landmark Mews than it is to impact a little-used stream valley park.

I know a lot about Sections 404 and 4(f) from Maryland's InterCounty Connector wars (from the 1970's to about 2006), when anti-ICC activists met (I am convinced) in secret (rather like meeting ex-parte with a judge) with staff from USEPA Region III and the Army Corps, Baltimore Engineering District, to develop strategies for stopping the project with those (and other) federal laws and statutes.


--- Quote from: 1995hoo on August 17, 2012, 11:22:25 AM ---
Separate issue not raised yet: One of the things I found myself wondering is about the specific issue of the center carriageway being reversible. At what point does extending a reversible carriageway ever further out (south, in this case) begin to introduce operational problems? I've seen some comments about the reversible facility that suggest that VDOT could do a better job of reversing them if they'd use cameras and automate the process instead of insisting on having trucks driving the length of the thing opening and closing the gates. On the other hand, I also understand why VDOT is absolutely paranoid about the risk of a head-on collision between vehicles with a closing speed of 130 mph or more (65 mph x 2) and why they are therefore overly cautious. I can't really blame them. Also, cameras do malfunction, and bad weather sometimes reduces cameras' usefulness, especially given the predilection of Northern Virginia drivers to drive illegally without headlights in the rain and snow. So I think it's fair to presume that VDOT will continue to impose very strict regulations as to the process of reversing the lanes, even if Fluor and Transurban take over the responsibility of managing the reversal in the HO/T portion. All of which builds up to the point—at what point does extending the reversible lanes potentially reduce the lanes' useful hours of operation if the process of reversing the direction winds up taking longer?

(edited to fix busted quote)

--- End quote ---

It was discussed years ago when the reversible lanes were extended south from Springfield (just south of Va. 644) to Lorton and then to Dumfries in the 1990's. 

In my opinion,  VDOT has well-developed and safe procedures to be followed when reversing the lanes which have worked out well.  It used to be VDOT peopple that reversed the lanes, now days I think the maintenance contractor that has the contract for the adjacent sections of I-95 and I-395 does it.

Even if the reversible lanes were to be extended all the way to Massaponax in Spotsylvania County, I think they can be managed, and managed well.

1995hoo:

--- Quote from: cpzilliacus on August 17, 2012, 11:58:35 AM ---
--- Quote from: 1995hoo on August 17, 2012, 11:22:25 AM ---The other consideration is that there are a couple of Express Lane exits that don't exist from the general-purpose lanes; the one that most readily comes to my mind in terms of presenting some totally new access is the new US-29 northbound exit/southbound entrance. I could definitely see myself using that on a weekend if I were going to play golf at Jefferson District Park (two lights east of the Beltway)—presently I exit at US-50 and then go through Fairview Park, and that's easy enough, but if the toll rate were low enough I'd consider just using the Express Lanes. I think VDOT and Fluor/Transurban expect people to use the Express Lanes for exactly that purpose, and I think they further expect that some people on the Inner Loop might exit at Gallows Road and then re-enter into the Express Lanes via the new ramp now under construction, as I've noted that there is an overhead "E-ZPass Express" VMS on the Inner Loop exit ramp at Gallows. Why put that on an exit ramp unless you expect people to pop over into the Express Lanes?
--- End quote ---

There was never an exit at U.S. 29 (Lee Highway) before because it crossed too close to U.S. 50 and the I-66 interchanges.

This exit may also attract some traffic to the new Defense Department offices (that oversee TRICARE) in the old Melpar complex on U.S. 50, since there is a "back" entrance via Fairview Park North.
--- End quote ---

Yes, I know, hence my point about it being a completely new exit that has the potential to change traffic patterns in a way that's hard to anticipate concretely until the system is actually operational. Depending on your destination, that new Express Lanes exit could be a huge timesaver compared to using Gallows Road, in particular. Gallows often backs up in front of the McDonald's across from Luther Jackson where there's a lane drop. The maneuver I suggested where you exit at Gallows and then hop into the Express Lanes seems highly plausible because I see many people making a similar move in reverse on I-395 at Seminary—I've seen people using the HOV in the afternoon exit at Seminary and then hop back into the mainline to exit at Duke.




--- Quote from: cpzilliacus on August 17, 2012, 12:16:35 PM ---
--- Quote from: 1995hoo on August 17, 2012, 11:22:25 AM ---Separate issue not raised yet: One of the things I found myself wondering is about the specific issue of the center carriageway being reversible. At what point does extending a reversible carriageway ever further out (south, in this case) begin to introduce operational problems? I've seen some comments about the reversible facility that suggest that VDOT could do a better job of reversing them if they'd use cameras and automate the process instead of insisting on having trucks driving the length of the thing opening and closing the gates. On the other hand, I also understand why VDOT is absolutely paranoid about the risk of a head-on collision between vehicles with a closing speed of 130 mph or more (65 mph x 2) and why they are therefore overly cautious. I can't really blame them. Also, cameras do malfunction, and bad weather sometimes reduces cameras' usefulness, especially given the predilection of Northern Virginia drivers to drive illegally without headlights in the rain and snow. So I think it's fair to presume that VDOT will continue to impose very strict regulations as to the process of reversing the lanes, even if Fluor and Transurban take over the responsibility of managing the reversal in the HO/T portion. All of which builds up to the point—at what point does extending the reversible lanes potentially reduce the lanes' useful hours of operation if the process of reversing the direction winds up taking longer?

(edited to fix busted quote)

--- End quote ---

It was discussed years ago when the reversible lanes were extended south from Springfield (just south of Va. 644) to Lorton and then to Dumfries in the 1990's. 

In my opinion,  VDOT has well-developed and safe procedures to be followed when reversing the lanes which have worked out well.  It used to be VDOT peopple that reversed the lanes, now days I think the maintenance contractor that has the contract for the adjacent sections of I-95 and I-395 does it.

Even if the reversible lanes were to be extended all the way to Massaponax in Spotsylvania County, I think they can be managed, and managed well.

--- End quote ---

Yeah, no disagreement with any of your comments about how they've developed procedures that work very well. My comment was simply a practical one that I think is still a legitimate comment—at what point do you start to encounter difficulty due to the ever-increased length of the reversible roadway? I'm sure that probably happens at some point, but I have no idea of what that point might be. As a purely hypothetical example, surely if there were to be talk of adding HO/T or other managed lanes all the way down to Richmond at some point it would become more reasonable to do something like what Maryland is doing northeast of Baltimore with two separate managed carriageways. I don't necessarily mean making them ETLs like Maryland is, mind you—just that beyond a certain distance it seems like the lanes would be more effectively, uh, managed if the need to reverse them weren't present.

Beltway:
The proposed Massaponax terminal for the reversible roadway is logical, because any directional split south of there wouldn't typically occur at times that are oriented toward D.C. area weekday peak commuting hours.

The VA I-95 general purpose roadways should be a minimum of 4 lanes each way between I-295 and I-495.

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